Portland Timbers' Caleb Porter playing it safe for preseason debuts for Diego Valeri, Steve Zakuani
With another solid offseason under their belts, there’s no question that the Portland Timbers will have a wealth of attacking options at their disposal for the coming season.
Adding Argentine forward Gastón Fernández and former Seattle Sounders attacker Steve Zakuani to one of MLS’ top offenses from last year allows Timbers head coach Caleb Porter the ability to tweak, rotate and play the matchups to his heart’s desire. It is an attacking coach’s dream.
But Porter and the Timbers have been without two of those main options so far this preseason: Zakuani and attacking midfielder Diego Valeri, the reigning MLS Newcomer of the Year and the proverbial straw that stirs Portland’s drink. Their absence has been the only speed bump in an otherwise smooth offseason.
Valeri dealt with an injury over the final few months of the 2013 season and then underwent surgery for a bilateral sports hernia in early December.
Zakuani, who was released by the Sounders and nabbed by the Timbers in the Re-Entry Draft, is still recovering from two groin surgeries last year to repair a sports hernia.
But they won’t be sidelined for much longer.
Porter told MLSsoccer.com in a phone conversation from Timbers preseason camp in Tucson, Ariz., that both Valeri and Zakuani went through a full training session Tuesday and are “progressing nicely.”
“They were even striking some balls on goal,” Porter said. “They’re actually further along than I thought they’d be. But we’re still going to be careful with them because we want to have them 100 percent and flying, not just for the start of the season but for the whole season. So we want to make sure they’re ready.”
Porter said he’s hoping to have them available to play in the Timbers’ four-team Rose City Invitational preseason tournament, which starts Feb. 23.
“That’s kind of the goal, and I think that’s a realistic goal at this point to get them in one or two of those games to start to bring them along,” he said.
Aside from the expected absences of Valeri and Zakuani, Porter said the first two weeks of the preseason has been without setbacks. He fielded two separate units that each went 45 minutes in the Timbers’ first preseason game Saturday against the defending MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City, which finished in a 1-1 draw.
In Wednesday’s game against the Houston Dynamo, Porter said he’d have one group go 60 minutes and another 30 and then swap that for Saturday’s match against the Sounders.
It’s all meant to work toward the goal of treating their Rose City Invitational games like it’s the regular season, Porter said.
“We look at those as more real, almost a dry run for the regular season,” Porter said. “What’s great about it is there’s a crowd so it feels like a real game.
"We’re slowly but surely building the layers on our team.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.